Luke DeCock

DeCock: For a change, NC’s best football recruits staying at home

Princeton’s Johnny Frasier (22) sweeps left as Matthew Hewett (47) blocks during a game earlier this season. The Bulldogs are one of the state title contenders in the 1A ranks.
Princeton’s Johnny Frasier (22) sweeps left as Matthew Hewett (47) blocks during a game earlier this season. The Bulldogs are one of the state title contenders in the 1A ranks. newsobserver.com

Like so many great North Carolina high school football players before him, Johnny Frasier was headed to an out-of-state national power, Florida State. Like so many of his peers in the class of 2015, he ended up remaining within the state’s borders.

The Princeton running back’s late switch from Florida State to N.C. State was a major factor in the best in-state recruiting haul in at least six years. Of the 11 players in North Carolina rated four stars by Rivals.com, Frasier and seven others signed Wednesday with either N.C. State or North Carolina.

“He made a decision, a good decision,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said Wednesday. “But as he kept looking at it, he realized the importance of being home.”

While drawing big conclusion from recruiting is a fool’s game, and the only thing settled on national signing dayare the accounts of subscription recruiting websites, this year’s in-state results are enough of an outlier to warrant further study. The individual rankings may be meaningless, but collectively the raw numbers can tell a story.

Just as an army travels on its stomach, a state’s college football strength is built upon the players it produces. North Carolina isn’t the most fertile state in the South, but it’s getting better all the time, and too often its top talent is wooed elsewhere.

In recent years, North Carolina has done the heavy lifting when it comes to luring the state’s top players, but as Doeren promised, N.C. State pushed the issue this year.

“Like I tell ’em all, you can go to a lot of places outside the state and get a good education and play ball, but you’re not going to be a local hero,” Doeren said.

Only a few slipped through the net: Wake Forest running back Bryce Love was the last to commit, choosing Stanford over in-state options. Charlotte defensive back Mark Fields signed with Clemson, and Lexington defensive lineman Shy Tuttle signed with Tennessee, both schools that traditionally recruit North Carolina heavily for obvious geographic reasons.

But for those schools to land only two North Carolina players is certainly notable, since there have been some years when Clemson and the SEC have strip-mined the state. The one that stands out is 2012, when top running backs Todd Gurley (Tarboro) and Keith Marshall (Raleigh) both chose Georgia. There were 11 four-star prospects in the state that year. Two stayed home. Georgia took two, Clemson took two, South Carolina took two, Florida two and Louisville one.

Last year, UNC and N.C. State each landed two North Carolina players, but that represented only a third of the four-star players available. The SEC and Clemson accounted for another third, with Boston College, West Virginia, Miami and Penn State getting the others.

In terms of both percentages and raw numbers, this is the best job the in-state schools have done keeping players within the state’s boundaries since 2009, when there were nine players ranked four stars or better and eight stayed home. North Carolina landed seven of them, Duke one. Donte Paige-Moss was the star of the class, the state’s only five-star player, and Durham running back Desmond Scott was the first big-time in-state recruit to commit to David Cutcliffe’s rebuilding process.

It’s already getting tougher for next year. Of Rivals’ 12 current four-star players in the class of 2016, five are already committed out of state. Obviously, that means little these days (just look at Frasier), but there’s work to do.

Wake Forest defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence is the big prize, the kind of five-star NFL prospect who has typically gone to the SEC. Keeping him in state would go a long way to keeping this year’s momentum going.

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